Review: METAtropolis (Audio) (Stories 1 and2)

What’s better than a good book? Why, a good free (audio) book of course. METAtropolis is a shared world anthology orbiting around the central notion of cities in a post-apocalyptic future. The book is described thusly:

Welcome to a world where big cities are dying, dead – or transformed into technological megastructures. Where once-thriving suburbs are now treacherous Wilds. Where those who live for technology battle those who would die rather than embrace it. It is a world of zero-footprint cities, virtual nations, and armed camps of eco-survivalists.

Welcome to the dawn of uncivilization.

METAtropolis is an intelligent and stunning creation of five of today’s cutting-edge science-fiction writers: 2008 Hugo Award winners John Scalzi and Elizabeth Bear; Campbell Award winner Jay Lake; plus fan favorites Tobias Buckell and Karl Schroeder. Together they set the ground rules and developed the parameters of this “shared universe”, then wrote five original novellas – all linked, but each a separate tale.

Bringing this audiobook to life is a dream team of performers: Battlestar Galactica‘s Michael Hogan (“Saul Tigh”); Alessandro Juliani (“Felix Gaeta”); and Kandyse McClure (“Anastasia ‘Dee’ Dualla”); plus legendary audiobook narrators Scott Brick (Dune) and Stefan Rudnicki (Ender’s Game).

I jumped at the chance to read hear the work of some spec fic authors who have been receiving rave reviews, but whose works I hadn’t yet gotten around to which was basically… er, every author in this book. @_@. It took me awhile to register at Audible.com for the free audio book, and a little longer after that to figure out how to put it in my iPod touch (largely because I downloaded it in one computer and loaded it in another) but hey, I’m willing to sweat a bit for free spec fic–and hey, in case you are too, then I’d advise you hop to it as the April article on SF Signal mentions it is a “limited time” thing. In fact I couldn’t find the free version searching audible directly, but the link posted in SF Signal still works.

Here is the list of stories:

  • “In the Forests of the Night” by Jay Lake, read by Michael Hogan
  • “Stochasti-city” by Tobias Buckell, read by Scott Brick
  • “The Red in the Sky is Our Blood” by Elizabeth Bear, read by Kandyse McClure
  • “Utere Nihil…” by John Scalzi, read by Alessandro Juliani
  • “To Hie from Far Cilenia” by Karl Schroeder, read by Stefan Rudnicki

Since it sometimes takes me ages to finish an audio book, I decided to post my reviews for the first two stories now, rather than wait until I’ve finished all five–at which point I’d likely have to listen to the first two again in order to remember them @_@

[SPOILER WARNING ON]


IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT:

I have to say, while some might find it a bit too dramatic, I loved the introduction,contrasting Tyger’s arrival with the arrival of a storm. As Mr. Scalzi said in the introduction to the piece, Mr. Lake does a good job of world building and showing the intricacies of his portion of the setting via brief interludes–whether excerpts from written reports or snatches of song lyrics–that serve as dividers between different parts of the story. Of course that format can be a bit confusing in an audio book, since there’s no clear way to indicate when an interlude is done and the story proper has begun.

With the type of introduction he gets, the reader knows that the story is going to revolve around Tyger, even if he is only one of the POV characters. This is as it should be as Tyger is a larger than life figure–but while it is that which makes him an intriguing character, he also seemed to me to be portrayed a bit too flawlessly. The fact that he is a messiah-type figure will draw you in, looking for the “catch,” and while one is implied, it still left me wondering if Tyger had been acting on his own, or had been part of something bigger–since there was a “big picture” which was implied but which by the end of the story did not appear to be resolved (the assassination attempt, the identity of the attackers of the other hidden town). Also, the revelation somehow does not make him any less “perfect” and that troubled me. I just don’t understand why Tyger couldn’t play his part in the story without being good at everything.
I very much liked the different character POVs, each with a very distinct voice, and each very enjoyable. I also enjoyed the tangential and clashing relations between the characters, how everyone seemed in some way connected, and how that sense of connection make the reader feel that things are coming to a head–to borrow the initial metaphor, to feel that a storm is brewing. I did find one POV strange though, when the narrative would segue into a “We” narrator–if this was meant to be a sort of omniscient viewpoint from the perspective of Cascadiopolis or its citizens, it might have held together more if the story hadn’t also included the POV of Crown, far away from the city.
I liked fact that the climactic fight scene was not actually shown–it buttressed the feeling of inevitability of the event: as if, with the characters and setting laid out, the narrative need not include a description of the actual event because there was simply no other way the confrontation could have gone down. Still, it did leave me with certain questions, for instance: In a functional anarchy, why would Bashar feel compelled to do something he felt conflicted by?
The voice work meanwhile was excellent. The rough timbre conjured up images of being told the story around a campfire in the dark, hearing the cackling flames in a place not unlike Cascadiopolis.


STOCHASTI-CITY:

Someone should make a survey: how many ex-soldiers/warriors in fiction end up bouncers? Still, I suppose the concept is cliche because it makes a good deal of sense, but while there’s little I found really unique in the protagonist, he made for an engaging narrator–he held my attention from the very start with his exposition on how bouncing was a “negotiation”–and a realistic and sympathetic hero; capable but never too capable.

I found the concept–and even moreso, the name– of “Turking” to be sheer genius. Took me awhile to put my finger on why the term made so much sense to me (the protagonist doesn’t know the reason, as could be expected) but when it hit me I had to marvel at how well it fit (It helped that I’d tried that particular Amazon service myself in Law School). The idea of Turking as a social phenomenon has that surprising-yet-inevitable feel of the very best sci fi concepts… the ones that tend to actually emerge in reality in one form or another.

As to be expected in a series of stories where the setting gets a huge share of the spotlight, the milleu was well described; the mundane portrayal of work, schedules and commuting gave the city a rhythm that made it come alive, and made the exploitation of those linear habits at the end of the story that much more convincing. The pacing for me was very well-done, almost text-book (though done well enough that you don’t see the man behind the curtain). It hooked you early, then slowly but surely ramped up both the centrality of the protagonist and the stakes of the game.

The voice work was again very good, very well suited to the story as his voice matched (or colored) my mental image of the protagonist.

It’s probaly quite obvious from the above that I enjoyed the second story more than the first, but despite my numerous issues with “In the Forests of the Night” I truly did find it to be a riveting tale. Most of the issues only emerged towards the end when I realized that they wouldn’t be resolved to my satisfaction. Of course, maybe some of the other stories shed some light on the issue, since they all share the same world–but I needed to comment on it in isolation first.

I encourage everyone to pick this up. If the quality stays this high, I’m definitely looking for a text copy to purchase–hopefully we’ll get a paperback version here in the Philippines–Amazon has the hardback.

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One response to “Review: METAtropolis (Audio) (Stories 1 and2)

  1. Pingback: [links] Link salad discovers Thursday under the carpet | jlake.com

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